Emoni Bates has been quite famous for quite some time. Considered by many the single best prospect in the United States outside the NBA over the last couple of years, the six-foot-eight gunner is somewhat tough to evaluate.
After playing his first couple of years of high school basketball for Ypsilanti Lincoln High School in Michigan, leading the team to a state championship as a freshman and having his sophomore season abruptly ended by the pandemic, he transferred to a prep academy run by his father for his junior year.
Ypsi Prep Academy had a few opportunities to play high profile opponents like Chet Holmgren’s AAU squad Team Sizzle, Mikey Williams’ Lake Norman Christian and TyTy Washington’s AZ Compass Prep but its schedule wasn’t really packed with the most highly regarded powerhouses.
Bates also hasn’t been a part of USA Basketball up until this point, missing the chance to participate in FIBA events that could offer a better understanding of how he can fit in a structure that features other high-profile prospects.
The closest thing we’ve been able to see so far was when Bates joined elite AAU squad Team Final for one qualifying event of the Nike EYBL circuit before returning to Bates Fundamentals (another program run by his father) for the Peach Jam. Within that setting, there were moments where Bates could be seen showcasing team-oriented skills such as being prepared to shoot on spot-ups and hitting the dive man in pick-and-rolls.
But for the most part, the perception of his game remains the same. Bates is more widely viewed as a ball-dominant wing who plays with a natural inclination to pull-up from long-range, regardless of screen or no screen. It’s rare to see him creating for others in volume or influencing the game away from the ball.
On the other end, he is competitive enough defending on the ball but hasn’t yet developed enough strength to hold his ground in isolation or in the post. And other than the occasional highlight block, it’s also rare to see him participating as a help defender.
But despite the general understanding that his development might have stagnated a bit, both in terms of skills and physicality, Bates continues to be viewed as a potential star.
Last month he opted to reclassify into the 2021 high school class (ESPN ranked him third) and joined Memphis for the upcoming season, with the hope that Penny Hardaway’s guidance can help him develop into a more reliable shot creator for others and complement his shot making package.
Given his January birthday, the 17-year-old will not be eligible for the 2022 NBA Draft, though.
At this point of his development, his game is entirely oriented towards the pull-up. Bates is a gunner who takes every opportunity he can get to launch a long-range bomb, having shown range further past the NBA line.
After showing the ability to launch three-pointers off hang dribbles, step-throughs, pull-backs, spin moves and jab-steps off the gate as a freshman, Bates showed development in his footwork as a junior and could often be seen creating separation via side-steps and step-backs as well.
His handle in isolation is also pretty decent for someone his height, with Bates having flashed in-and-out dribbles and low crossovers to shake his defender off balance from time-to-time.
His shot selection leaves something to be desired, as you’d expect from a teenager whose entire team was created to accommodate his presence, but the most concerning aspect seems to be that he can be considered fairly one dimensional in isolation.
Bates can get by less capable defenders on a crossover-and-go move but doesn’t have a particularly quick first step out of a standstill and struggles to maintain his balance through contact, due to his underdeveloped frame for someone his height.
He is a willing passer with drop-offs and kickouts off drawing two to the ball, but hasn’t yet shown anything particularly impressive in terms of court vision on the move.
His handle in pick-and-roll is a little more basic, but Bates has shown a nascent feel for using or declining the ball-screen to attack either side of the pick.
He is more naturally inclined to seek the pull-up off the screen as well; stepping into a three-pointer, getting to his spots around the elbow and even launching the occasional step-back three-pointer off forcing his man to overplay a potential drive.
But when Ypsi Prep/Bates Fundamentals could offer him just about enough space, Bates acted as a real threat to attack downhill or snake his way down the lane.
He is an explosive leaper off one foot with space to take off but most often looks to gallop into two-foot leaps in traffic. He has shown fairly impressive flexibility to adjust his body in the air with a rim protector parked between him and the basket, and despite his thin frame, Bates can complete some acrobatic finishes through contact and on his way down here and there.
He is for now most often more of a basic finisher who looks for below-the-rim speed layups, though.
During his time with Team Final, Bates proved capable of executing basic reads hitting the roll man over the top and tossing up some well-timed lobs on the move. During his freshman season with Ypsilanti Lincoln High School, he flashed some appealing court vision hitting the weakside corner over the top and good rhythm hitting a stretch big sneaking to the three-point line in the pick-and-pop.
But given the way he played this past season, it’s unclear how capable of making more advanced reads in traffic he can be at this point of his development.
Bates likes to take his man into the post every once in a while, but mostly as a device to isolate with that side of the floor clear.
He is not very physical looking to establish post position and often gets pushed out to the three-point line. As a result, Bates rarely looks to operate with his back to the basket, instead opting for facing up and launching jumpers off a jab-step or a slow crossover.
He is yet to show any ability to operate as a shot creator for others out of the low post.
His time with Team Final was important because it offered him an opportunity to play more team-oriented basketball – filling the lane in transition and staying prepared to catch-and-shoot on spot-ups; things that were rare to see him do while playing for YPSI Prep and Bates Fundamentals.
He can play above the rim as a target for lobs but hasn’t yet developed a knack for making that option available more regularly in the half-court via cuts.
Bates sets an unorthodox base at times, bringing his knees closer together than you are used to seeing, but has good fluidity in his overall approach, despite needing to take a quick dip for rhythm, and fully extends himself for a high release.
Besides basic spot-ups and quick stop-and-pop bombs in transition, Bates hasn’t yet developed versatility to his release – pretty much never having the chance to come off screens or work as the screener in pick-and-roll.
Bates is reasonably competitive defending on the ball.
He sits down into more of a hunched posture but slides pretty well side-to-side and on a straight line out in space. Bates doesn’t have the frame and doesn’t play with enough tenacity to chest up and contain dribble penetration through contact, though. Similar-sized players can power through successfully.
That lack of physicality also hurts him in the post, where it’s rare to see him putting up much of a fight.
Ypsi Prep usually had him as a weakside defender.
His level of engagement away from the ball is not necessarily displeasing, as he’ll make plays from the side clogging driving lanes on occasion and jump some passing lanes in impressive fashion here and there.
Bates has also impressed with his quickness and his balance on closeouts, proving capable of running shooters off the line and staying attached off the bounce in his best moments.
However, he’s generally not a very influential help defender. Other than the occasional highlight, Bates is not asset rotating to the rim – not just rarely acting as a legit shot blocking threat but also rarely helping crowd the area near the rim.
He is not naturally inclined to join scrums and help boxout whoever is close by either, and he doesn’t get tough boxing out his own man.